New Study Sheds Light on Why Some People Gain Weight Easier Than Others

"We have far less control over our weight than we might wish to think.”

Recently, a study found that while our implicit biases against people on the basis of race and sexual orientation are decreasing, our subconscious prejudice against people based on their body weight might actually be increasing. According to the thesis of the study, people may recognize race and sexual orientation as something we're born with, but we still view body weight as something that people have control over—and are therefore more likely to be judgmental about.

Now, major new research from the University of Cambridge has provided evidence that we're not as in control of our weight as we like to think we are.

Professor of Metabolism and Medicine Sadaf Farooqi and her colleagues asked 2,000 participants whose BMIs qualified as "thin" to submit saliva samples in order to analyze their DNA, and asked them questions regarding their lifestyle habits and general health. Her team then collaborated with Dr. Inês Barroso and his colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to compare the DNA of 14,000 people who had BMIs ranging from "thin" to "obese."

The results of the study—which is believed to be the largest of its kind to date—showed that our genes determine not only our body weight but also our ability to lose and gain weight in the same way that they do our hair and eye colors.

"As anticipated, we found that obese people had a higher genetic risk score than normal weight people, which contributes to their risk of being overweight. The genetic dice are loaded against them," Barroso said.

This new research may enable scientists to help those who did not win the genetic lottery in the battle of the bulge.

"We already know that people can be thin for different reasons," Farooqi said. "Some people are just not that interested in food whereas others can eat what they like, but never put on weight. If we can find the genes that prevent them from putting on weight, we may be able to target those genes to find new weight-loss strategies and help people who do not have this advantage."

But, for now, our main takeaway from this study is to realize that just because someone is slim doesn't mean they only eat a plant-based diet, and just because someone is heavier-set doesn't mean they sit on their couches eating junk food all day.

"This research shows for the first time that healthy thin people are generally thin because they have a lower burden of genes that increase a person's chances of being overweight and not because they are morally superior, as some people like to suggest," Farooqi said. "It's easy to rush to judgement and criticize people for their weight, but the science shows that things are far more complex. We have far less control over our weight than we might wish to think."

So don't be like those bullies who made fun of an overweight woman trying her best at the gym. And, if you didn't inherit the magical gene that enables you to eat whatever you want without gaining weight, don't despair and think that you should just submit yourself to your fate. It may be harder for you to maintain a healthy BMI than others, but it's worth adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise regime, especially because our body weight has a big impact on our overall health and longevity. For more on how to be healthier, check out the 5 habits that Harvard scientists guarantee will extend your lifespan.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more